In the Middle Ages there was no spot in Ireland so celebrated as St. Patrick's Purgatory in Lough Derg (Co. Donegal). I have even seen an early map of Europe where the only place designated in Ireland is this Purgatory. Its reputation was first made by the so-called confessions of the Knight Owen (one of King Stephen's court), who says he visited this place, and obtained relief for his conscience after a life of hideous crimes. He knew about it because he was an Irishman. His story was written in Latin by Henry of Saltry, and ran over all Europe, so that there is little doubt that Dante had it before him when composing his Purgatorio. For the date of Owen's visit is about 1154 A.D.
From this time onward there grows up a whole literature about this and lesser Purgatories. How early the real origin of this sanctum does not appear. The general similarity its rites bear to the initiation at the Eleusinian Mysteries and those of the cave of Trophonius suggests that it may possibly be the echo of these Greek mysteries and oracles reaching across the Dark Ages, and kept alive by their adaptation to Christianity. It is not my purpose here to pursue this line of investigation, or to give any further history of the fortunes of this famous purgatory.
p.2A clear and learned summary of it has been given by the late Thomas Wright, the well-known editor of Gerald of Wales in Bohn's series. But for his ultra-Protestant attitude, which forbids any sympathy with such superstitious piety as legends and pilgrimages imply, Wright's short book ( St. Patrick's Purgatory, London, 1844) gives us an admirable survey of this curious history.
What concerns me here is to save from neglect the information left us by two of the numerous pilgrims or tourists who were tempted to make this long and then perilous journey from Continental Europe. Very few of these journals have been printed; there may be others lying in MS. in the libraries of Spain or France. The Knight Owen, however, the earliest known pilgrim, is so busy confessing his sins, and describing the miracles and wonders of the place, that he vouchsafes us hardly a word about his voyage. As he was an Irishman, what he saw may not have struck him as curious, and he never returned from Lough Derg, where he became a monk for life.
Wright refers to, and quotes from, a certificate given by Edward III to two foreign knights, but these have left us no journal of their travels. The voyage of Count John de Perilhos (or Perelhos)1 is attested by the reference, also made by Wright, to the permit granted him on Sept. 6, 1397, by King Richard II, to whom the Count was recommended by the King of France. There is no reason whatever to doubt the genuineness of the narrative. This text, originally composed in Catalan, is now preserved only in a Provençal version of 1466, known to Philip O'Sullivan, in whose Historiae Catholicae Iberniae Compendium (1621) there is quoted part of it in Latin. But he omits the very passages which are to us interesting, about the manners of King O'Neill's Court, just as a modern patriot would omit them. A learned French edition of the Provençal text, with grammar and glossary, was published by MM. Jeanroy
p.3and Vignaux (Toulouse, 1903). The portion of it which is worth citing was translated for me from the Provençal by my colleague, Professor Rudmose-Brown.
The other document was long sought by me, for part of it was published in Mrs. Cartwright's Life of Isabella d'Este, to whom Bishop Chiericati, Papal Nuncio at the Court of Henry VIII, and a friend of Erasmus, communicates it in a letter written from Middleburg (Zeeland) in 1515.2 There is between them this distinction: the former was a pilgrimage, the latter a mere tour of curiosity. But the two were not easily distinguishable in earlier days. The tourist found his passports by turning pilgrim, and the pilgrim often added worldly interests to his pilgrimage. Chiericati's letter has been translated for me by Professor J. G. Smyly, so that my only credit in this paper is to have brought to a focus the learning of others. I must add that it was Mr. Armstrong of Queen's College, Oxford, the well-known author of the standard book on Charles V, who told me where to find the rare pamphlet on Chiericati's life.3 Here follow the translations of the two texts.4